5 HR tech trends to watch in 2018: What the sector says

Jess Fuhl
Published on 21st December 2017
7 min read

Technology, data and the way we work have collided to reshape human resources.

It is now thought of as a People function.

New roles like People Scientists and Chief People Officers are emerging as companies realize they need to know more about their own people if they want to win the war on talent and attract and retain the best staff.

The right technology can help organizations understand their biggest asset – their people – better, and gain business advantage from developing new ways of engaging with and managing the workforce.

But technology is moving and changing rapidly in the HR landscape, so it can be hard to keep abreast of what the latest developments are.

We’ve picked the brains of a multitude of global HR professionals, thought-leaders and people consultants to find out what the key trends are for you to be aware of in 2018 – and what to consider before adopting these new technologies within your own work environment. Here’s our round-up of the technologies that the experts believe will have the biggest impact on the world of HR over the coming 12 months and beyond.

Being mindful of new tech

Gemma Dale, senior HR professional and co-founder of The Work Consultancy, says there are many technology trends to be mindful of, and the most important thing that HR and People teams need to do is ‘make the effort to understand the technology’.

‘I meet many HR professionals who are not digitally literate, and refuse to try and use new tools. This simply isn’t good enough. HR is well placed to lead organisations into a digital future but they need to start with themselves,’ says Dale.

David D’Souza, head of engagement and London at CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development in the UK, agrees: ‘HR leaders need to become far, far more technology aware – outside of our traditional realms of HR systems – and start thinking about how technology can be used to support performance and reinforce culture. There is some really interesting work to be done in partnership with IT to make this happen.’

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

First up is AI. The use of AI in HR is already happening, mainly in the form of chatbots, as we recently wrote about . But future applications will see it used to help hiring managers decide which candidates to select for a specific role and what attributes in their profile will be a good fit for the company’s values.

AI will even be able to suggest what interview questions to ask by analyzing the data of employees who are already succeeding in the company and comparing these attributes with those in the candidate pool.

Jon Thurmond, regional human resources manager at Team Fishel, thinks the integration of AI with self-service HR tools will be interesting to watch, along with ‘real time performance management as employees look for additional insights into their performance’.

D’Souza, thinks the use of chatbots will really take off over the next year. ‘They have the potential to make real differences to the efficiency of HR teams whilst also improving speed – and potentially accuracy – of response for employees,’ he says.

Gautam Ghosh, consultant of talent advisory services, at VBeyond Corporation, agrees: ‘In 2018 I think AI enabled chatbots will be mainstream and will function as virtual employee assistants prompting employees to take vacations, keeping track of appointments, skill development, feedback etc. Progressive HR leaders will lead this trend to truly create a personalised employee experience.’

Further reading: ‘Bot.me: How artificial intelligence is pushing man and machine closer together’

  1. Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

According to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) is a hot trend that will be big in the learning and performance support market.

In the ‘HR Technology Disruptions for 2018’ report, Bersin says: ‘VR and AR will allow us to transport learners into simulations and help teach them exactly what to do in real time.  I spent a half day with a vendor in Palo Alto called STRIVR, and it was eye-opening. I put on goggles and was interviewing a candidate while the system tracked my eye movements and offered me menus depending on what I was looking at. This product is offering solutions to big, real-world training problems.’

He adds: ‘Google Glass, BlackBerry, Lenovo, and other major hardware manufacturers are now getting into AR, and these systems can easily complement or even replace other kinds of training. So watch this space carefully.’

The other key People function VR is being used for is recruitment. VR enables businesses to immerse candidates in a real-life work situation, give them virtual tours of the office, and get them to experience the company culture in person.

The benefits for a candidate are that they can really experience what it’s like to work at your company and picture themselves there, which in turn makes life for you the recruiter easier, as you’re not having to work hard to sell the company to the candidate. You can also get to see how they react to a real-life work scenario.

  1. Machine-learning

Often talked about in the same breath as AI, and although related, they are not the same. AI is a branch of computer science attempting to build machines capable of intelligent behavior, while machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

Machine learning involves the study of pattern recognition and algorithms that can learn from and make predictions on data. Current world applications of machine learning include email filtering, detection of network intruders, self-driving cars, and speech recognition software.

In the world of HR, machine learning is starting to be used for applications that can predict employee attrition. Using predictive analytics, certain responses on employee satisfaction surveys and drops in efficiency can be identified as precursors to employees resigning.

According to PwC’s Global HR Technology Survey, reducing attrition by just 1% in an organization of 5,000 employees with an attrition rate of 10%, can save approximately $3.75 million.

Other emerging applications for machine learning in HR include applicant tracking and assessment, individual skill management and development, and enterprise management – using data to pose questions like ‘what’s the ideal size for a specific team or department within the business’.

Sharlyn Lauby, author of the HR Bartender blog and president of training and HR consultancy ITM Group, believes concepts like AI and machine learning will become more mainstream in the workplace in 2018. ‘I think these ideas were initially thought of as job killers, meaning they would replace humans. It scared people. The reality is that they can help organizations reduce the amount of redundant and boring work employees have to do,’ she explains.

Further reading: ‘Machine learning in Human Resources – applications and trends

  1. Blockchain

So, what is blockchain? Basically, blockchain is a database that keeps an ever-growing list of records. A blockchain database contains two types of records: blocks and transactions. Blocks are linked up and timestamped, and the blockchain is not attributed to a single device, so can be used by multiple users.

Originally developed for the digital currency, Bitcoin, the tech community is now finding other uses for the technology. In HR and People teams, potential uses for blockchain include providing your employees with a comprehensive, trustworthy record of their education, skills, training and workplace performance that they can access anywhere, anytime.

It could also be used for cybersecurity and fraud prevention in HR, and boosting productivity by automating routine, data-heavy processes like VAT administration and payroll.

It even has the potential for companies to create their own corporate currencies.

Susan LaMotte, founder and CEO of employer brand firm exaqueo, says blockchain and AI are the two trends that people are talking about the most, but advises: ‘Before you embrace them, you’ve got to understand what they are. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask the basic questions so you understand the concepts before getting enamored with the technology outputs’.

Further reading: ‘How blockchain technology could impact HR and the world of work

  1. Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items, embedded with software, sensors, electronics and network connectivity which enable these objects to talk to each other and exchange data.

But what’s IoT got to do with HR and People we hear you ask? Well, IoT will generate huge amounts of data associated with people and how they perform their jobs on a daily basis. And people data is key for People Companies to understand their workforce better and create positive workforce experiences so yes, start getting excited about IoT.

It’s going to revolutionize what you know about your workforce and give you more data than you’ve ever dreamed of.

Aadil Bandukwala, evangelist of predictive outbound hiring solution Belong, is excited about IoT and says employees will soon be able to experience and interact with devices, platforms and services across the workplace that will ‘change the way we engage with software’.

‘Interacting with software and devices with the keyboard will soon be passé. Speech, voice and signals are the next big wave of communication that will dominate how we get work done thanks to the advent of IoT and rapid strides we’re making in artificial intelligence, cognitive platforms and neural networks,’ he adds.

Further reading: ‘The Internet Of Things will fundamentally change HR

Finding what’s right for your organization

Being mindful of these emerging technologies is great but you don’t just want another tool or piece of kit in the office, so how can you embrace these new technologies in a way that’s right for your organization?

Thurmond advises considering how any new tech will fit the company culture and what would the change management to implement look like? ‘Be sure to have key stakeholders in place and give them a voice in the process,’ he adds.

Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer at People and Transformational HR, points out that investing in new tech should be about better ways to be more effective and efficient in areas such as employer brand, hiring, selecting, developing and involving people through use of digital platforms, apps and tools.

‘Use of time, money and environmental saving technology ought to be top of everyone’s list in HR,’ says Timms.

Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and co-founder and principal at the RBL Group, adds: ‘Analytics and evidence based decision making requires great information. HR should help access, interpret, and act on that information. Most technology isolates people (4 to 6 hours a day in front of a screen), so HR needs to find ways to emotionally and seriously connect people to each other through digital tools.’

Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory adds that leaders need to get out there and talk to others about new technologies: ‘If HR leaders want to embrace these trends and get in front of the curve, they need to be connecting with vendors regularly to understand the advances in technology and capabilities.

‘This isn’t necessarily to buy right away, but to start gathering intelligence on what systems can do and what advancements are being made. Simply understanding the technology landscape with a single hour of technology demos a week will go a long way toward making HR pros more valuable business assets.’

The final word goes to VP at Sage People, Paul Burrin, who says that companies shouldn’t be thinking of technology for technology’s sake. ‘The last time I downloaded an app, I needed it to solve a problem,’ he says. ‘The same applies at work. People become adopters if they need and feel compelled to use technology to help them in their jobs. Technology must be useful for HR and People teams to use.

‘We’re in the middle of a skills crisis. Businesses and HR and People leaders need technology to speed them up, so they can free up their time to create great workforce experiences for their people – not slow them down.’

Want to find out what else is on the mind of HR and People leaders? Read what 500+ professionals said about the challenges facing the sector.

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